Let me start this article with the last sentence. With public infrastructure, like a Dig Once Policy, we can provide real low-income connections at a lower price and in some cases for free.
I started working on broadband issues as a volunteer in Bellingham for many reasons — the most paramount of those issues being the Digital Divide. This is most simply defined as the the gulf between those who have ready access to computers and the Internet, and those who do not. This issue, like most, affects our poor and minority communities more than others. In short, about 15 percent of the nation has virtually no real access to the Internet because it is too slow or too expensive and the big telecoms don’t care. The ACLU has recommended public ISPs simply to protect your rights.
Yet April Barker and Roxanne Murphy are specifically pushing virtually worthless, low-income connections from CenturyLink. Roxanne even gushed over CenturyLink at the 7/24 council meeting, saying that she would wait as long as necessary to get service from them. Really? She prefers over-priced, anti net-neutral service from a Louisiana based company that pays some of the lowest wages in the industry, has some of the worst customer satisfaction scores, and won’t even give us a local office until they get their 30 percent, although we have local providers available.
Shouldn’t council members be using local providers if possible? I’ll expand on the numbers in a second. Ted Carlson also used $900 a month Gigabit fiber from WAVE to argue against other options and used these virtually worthless low-income connections in his big telecom propaganda map which I wrote about here, to keep from doing common sense work to improve our community. Don’t confuse this with the pretend gigabit download access WAVE and Comcast offer in some areas. Gigabit offered by these providers over old, aging, copper wires is not true symmetrical fiber based gigabit access and still costs too much. It also counts against your 1TB a month data cap. That’s right, you’re not only overpaying. You’re limited in how much data you can use. In short, these are not true gigabit connections, you’ll need new hardware to support them, and you probably don’t even have access to them anyway.
To add insult to injury, Ted made the aforementioned map using the lowest standards possible, and still has not fulfilled the public records request where he was asked to provide conduit size and fiber counts for the existing public network. When they say it’s not usable, they’re mistaken. Thanks to James Erb I was able to get a few numbers from the COB. Is our existing network perfect? No. Does it need to be expanded? Yes (aka the Dig Once Policy). Can it be used to help break up the big telecom monopoly? Yes! If they tell you otherwise, like Michael Lilliquist has been telling people recently, they’re mistaken. I was told by public works that we have fiber counts anywhere from 6 strands to 100, averaging out at 36. Meaning that they can easily fit another 48 strands in most of the existing conduit. That’s assuming they used less than 2-inch conduit. According to the numbers I received from the Holly Street repair, they’ve started installing 2-inch conduit which can fit 867 strands. They just won’t give us access to it. Also, how can they make statements about the network one way or the other when they haven’t even found all of their missing resources yet? You can do a lot with a little bit of fiber and 100 strands is more than a little bit.
Allow me to insert a cost comparison to use throughout the rest of this article. This is a cost comparison that, like all of the data in this article, I have shared with our councils and mayor before. Like most information you get from Comcast and CenturyLink, part of the issue is getting accurate information from them in the first place. With both companies wanting to push unnecessary, luxury items like TV services, over necessary items like broadband access, they of course prefer to give you confusing bundle options for obsolete services like cable TV. Here are the rates from other communities with Dig Once Policies and Public Broadband options like we’re suggesting. Again, it increases competition and breaks up the telecom monopolies.
Cost of Gigabit (aka 1,000 Mbit) Symmetrical Internet In Other Places (Speeds are in Mbits)
Kansas City ($70/Month) (On par free after 12 months and $300 one-time equipment fee)
Chattanooga, Tenn. ($68/Month) (Note: $300/month for 10 Gig service)
South Korea ($24/month)
On average the cost in most other developed countries is in the $24 to $56/month range.
Canadian Free Standard is now 50/10 Mbits. (Ours is sadly 25/3.)
Bellingham (If you can get it at all) $300 to $900 a month depending on provider.
Oddly, We spend about 4 times the amount to install conduit in Bellingham than other similar cities. (COB Numbers $50K and up per block (aka $400K a mile; Phoenix, AZ $100K per Mile, the list goes on.)
So how bad are the CenturyLink and Comcast low-income connections for about $10 a month before tax? They’re virtually worthless. In fact, they are like saying that someone has a car because they have one on blocks in their yard. CenturyLink offers 1.5Mbps down and not even 1Mbps up for $10 a month; Comcast 10 Mbits down and maybe 5Mbps up. None of the speeds are guaranteed. Again, for $68 a month you can get 1,000 Mbits down and up in Chattanooga, Tenn. Google will give you something better for free, after 1 year, with an equipment purchase or 1,000 Mbits down and up for $70. Oh yes, of course the big-telecoms have an equipment purchase fee as well. This information is accurate, but comes from an article obviously written on behalf of the big telecoms. Their claims that these connections are usable in the modern age are totally inaccurate and based on the lowest of standards.
Just look at those numbers. The CenturyLink low-income connection is about 16 times slower than our inadequate federal standard of 25 Mbits down and almost 4 times slower than our standard up. This makes them about 667 times slower than Chattanooga, Tenn. or Kansas City — which makes our federal standard obviously a joke in the first place. It is, therefore, 32 times slower down and almost 12 times slower up than the Canadian quality of life internet standard in rural areas. Of course, none of these numbers means anything without net-neutrality because the big telecoms can throttle the connections too. You may say, “But Jon we’re in Washington state; we have net-neutrality laws. We’re OK, right?” Yes we do, but the big telecoms are already fighting against them by arguing federal preemption and since the Internet is a global information tool you also have to keep in mind that many of the resources you interact with are not in areas that will definitely have net-neutrality.
Then you’ll say, but Jon today the Senate voted to preserve net-neutrality. Yes that’s true too, but the bill still has to pass the House and then be signed by Donald Trump. However, I was involved in trying to get our town public broadband long before the net-neutrality upheaval. Why? Because even before we lost net-neutrality we were getting poor services from our providers at the highest rates possible and virtual monopolies exist everywhere. We needed public broadband before the net-neutrality repeal and we will still need it going forward.
So why did April Barker specifically mention that low-income connections by CenturyLink were covered when I met with her and Michael Lilliquist about a year ago, as if those connections were a real solution? Why would Roxanne Murphy gush all over a company that provides such terrible connections to the most undeserved and vulnerable in our communities paired with some of the worst customer service? Why won’t Tim Ballew talk to me, or anyone impartial, about public broadband? He says it’s part of his campaign, but I can’t get a response from him. I really want to tell him about the Tulalip Tribe’s success of building their own fiber network for Quel Ceda village, the Casino, and much of the rest of their community for 1/10th the price they were quoted by private firms. Did he drink the Roxanne Murphy/CenturyLink Kool-Aid? Is he unaware that public broadband is the best option for any community and can provide many advantages that the big telecoms will never provide? I don’t know, but I do know that I’ve done the research and public broadband makes the most sense for every community. It is the cheapest, highest performance, most ethical option available. Yes, it is a necessity.
Most on the council and in our government say they care about social justice, but you can’t back up companies that attack the First Amendment and provide such useless low-income connections, and say that. Access to the internet is a huge social justice issue. Even if they get a fiber connection with our private providers like WAVE or CenturyLink and pump it out on tribal land, they will still be paying between about 4.5 and 10 times more than they would in Chattanooga, Tenn., for that connection. We are being robbed blind, and the poor in our community are being robbed of their opportunities to educate themselves, find jobs, access inexpensive health care options; the list goes on …. Yet, I recently even had a representative from WAVE hide behind the homeless and try to shame one of my supporting organizations into backing off of the fiber issue. These companies will stop at nothing to keep us from getting good, affordable, access. Again, WAVE charges about $900 a month per Gigabit, more than 9 times what they pay in Chattanooga, Tenn. In fact, in Chattanooga you can get three 10,000 Mbit connections for what WAVE charges per Gigabit here. This is the company Ted Carlson, Roxanne Murphy, April Barker, and the rest of the council note when they say we do have access?! Did they not cover orders of magnitude in their high school math classes? Also, WAVE was recently purchased by a San Francisco firm and is not local. So don’t believe that hype when you hear it. We don’t have what we need through private companies in Bellingham.
Even if the anti-net neutral, anti-First Amendment providers like Comcast and CenturyLink doubled their low-income connection speeds, they would still be under our minimum standard of 25/3MBits which is way too low in the first place. We are being robbed blind. Michael Lilliquist and Gene Knutson are onboard with Dig Once. Why not public broadband too? Why won’t Terry Bornemann weigh in on it? These guys claim to be progressives, after all, and are on the public works commission.
The big telecoms have shown us they will never do it right, never charge us a fair rate, and will never be trustworthy. As Michael himself said, “A public option changes the behavior of other providers in the area too, for the better.” So April and Roxanne, if you care about social justice and equity then it’s time to care about public broadband and stop pretending that CenturyLink cares. Our largest growth areas right now are in small, internet-based businesses. That goes for the economy, education, social justice, and just about every other issue. I have provided all of this information to the council and mayor many times. Even if you don’t personally care about technology, what if your neighbor wants to work in technology and improve the community doing so? That’s why we gave everyone electricity via the Rural Electrification Act in 1936. If your council members, candidates, and mayor still don’t get this, it’s time to make new choices on your ballot. It’s also time for the Whatcom Democrats to endorse candidates that do.